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Kashmir’s open-air classes offer stunning solution to lockdown

in rural Kashmir, the option of open air classrooms was a welcome respite.Ns News Online Desk: Schools across India are struggling to teach online as the pandemic forces them to stay shut. But this town in Indian-administered Kashmir has found a novel solution, reports Abid Bhatt.

Every morning, students in Doodpathri, a town in Budgam district, walk past streams and bridges, and up the hill to their new classroom: a picturesque spot with the snow-capped Himalayas as a backdrop. The outdoor school is a breather for both parents and children after months of a grinding lock-down to slow down Covid-19 infections. The state has reported more than 19,000 cases and some 365 deaths.

“It’s far better that our kids attend such schools than grow weary in homes where they often end up frustrating themselves,” says Mushtaq Ahmad, whose son is attending the open air school.

Officials should collaborate with locals to set up more such schools, he adds. Despite Kashmir’s troubled relationship with India – and the specter of violence that haunts the valley – it has long been a popular tourist destination for its idyllic beauty. And Doodpathri itself is a well-known hill station. But with no tourists arriving this summer, locals asked officials to put the area’s stunning locales to different use”The classes are being conducted keeping the safety measures in mind,” said Mohammad Ramzan Wani, zonal education officer, who helped set up the community school.

“Due to unpredictable weather in upper reaches, we also tried to pitch tents for seamless execution of these classes.”Indian students, especially those in rural areas and poorly funded government schools, have struggled to attend classes online due to spotty connectivity and shortage of phones in a single household.

Even in private schools, the move to online classes has exposed a digital divide between students who have multiple devices – from laptops to iPads to smartphones – at home and those that don’t. So in rural Kashmir, the option of open air classrooms was a welcome respite.

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